Audit Reveals Faith-based Funding Dangers

A Wisconsin state audit released in February of private child welfare agencies in Milwaukee County reveals that thousands of dollars targeted to help abused and neglected children were spent on personal gifts by Lutheran Social Services.

Auditors additionally discovered a $541,604 overpayment to Lutheran Social Services for handling foster care. The overpayment for services provided in December 2004 was not discovered by auditors until October 2005. Lutheran Social Services indicated the money will be paid back.

Egregiously, more than $16,000 in church-related expenditures from Lutheran Social Services were paid by child welfare money. Church-related” expenses included tickets to three Milwaukee Brewer baseball games, two of which were for clergy. The cost for the food, tickets and suite totaled $1,210, according to auditors. Lutheran Social Services defended the expenditures.

“The Brewer games were an opportunity to bring clergy together to support the work that we do,” said Edward Kohl, regional vice president for Lutheran Social Services ( Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Feb. 9, 2006).

Lutheran Social Services spent more than $5,550 of child welfare money to purchase fleece jackets, shirts, watches, key lights and sweatshirts for employees. Public money also bought 200 coffee mugs with Lutheran Social Services logo for child welfare trainees.

Kohl said the gifts to employees were to help with staff morale and retention, and were permissible under state contracts.

Among other questionable or unlawful expenses cited in the audit:

  • $46,214 in a severance package for one employee
  • $32,791 in legal bills unrelated to child welfare
  • $6,525 in grocery store gift cards

The audit found 30% of child abuse investigations took longer than the 60 days permitted by state law. Only 27% of court-ordered services for children in foster care and their families were in place shortly after children were removed from homes during the period of mid-February through late June 2005.

Hearings on the audit findings were promised by legislators.

Freedom From Religion Foundation